Skillcult Remembers!


I’ve been plugging Steven’s work ever since we met a while back. He and I both have that INTJ insanity going that makes experimentation a way of life.

He recently hit 10,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel and gave me a nice shout-out:

I’ve been sending traffic to other people since I started this site. Trading links and giving shout-outs connects you to the bigger community of gardeners and homesteaders, plus boosts your own profile as a side benefit.

Back when I first started linking to people, it only meant a few views for them. My reach was short and my site was small.

Now it means more, as you guys are quite happy to mobilize and send views to a worthy site or video if I say “hey – this guy is great!”

All of us are learning all the time. Sometimes I feel more like a good collector and interpreter of information rather than a brilliant innovator. Sure, I come up with some good ideas now and again but there’s really nothing new under the sun.

If I made a list of the people I need to thank, I’d have a hard time reaching the end of it. The commentors here that send me off searching on something new… the family members that said “you can do it!” when I was a kid… the experimenters like Steven that get me thinking along unexpected and profitable lines… I am blessed.

Subscribe to Steven’s channel if you haven’t already. Also make sure to visit his website – there’s a ton of info there on everything from axes to grafting.

He’s a great guy to follow.

Even if I did use a screen shot for this post making him look totally dopey.


How to Make Homemade Potting Soil With Three Simple Ingredients

homemade potting soil recipe

Today you’ll learn how to make homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve ready my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.


Did you enjoy this article? Share it! Here’s a Pinterest graphic:

how to make homemade potting soil a homemade potting soil recipe graphic for pinterest


Deliciously Illegal Tonka Beans


I never heard of tonka beans until last week when a farmer shared some with me.

Now I’m amazed by them.

The aroma, the flavor… heavenly.


There’s one problem: in the US, tonka beans are illegal!

Ah… the land of the free!

In yesterday’s video I share more on the deliciously illegal tonka bean… and Rachel crashes my presentation:

The reason tonka beans are illegal is because of outdated research on one compound in the beans: courmarin.

According to a quite entertaining post by Ike Delorenzo at The Atlantic:

“The fear of coumarin in the U.S. stems from the oft-repeated saw that it is a blood thinner. It’s not. Coumadin® is the blood thinner trademarked by Bristol-Meyers Squibb. To make matters more confusing, Coumadin is made, in part, by changing the chemical structure of coumarin. Doctors who spoke with me (and who were terrified of being quoted) said there they’re aware of no anti-coagulant effect from naturally occurring coumarin in general, or tonka beans in particular. In nature, only certain rare decomposition fungi can convert coumarin to the anti-coagulant molecule. Cows grazing on (pounds of) such rotting sweet clover led to the discovery of the Coumadin drug.

Humans would need to eat an unreasonably bovine amount of tonka bean to fall ill. The shavings of a single bean is enough for 80 plates. At least 30 entire tonka beans (250 servings, or 1 gram of coumarin total) would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic—about the same volume at which nutmeg and other everyday spices are toxic.
So is the FDA enforcing this old law? Has anyone been busted for tonka bean possession? Yes! While the financial industry recently spun out of deregulated control, federal regulators got busy tracking down chefs using the tonka bean.”
Sounds about right. Forget going after real criminals – LET’S GO SWAT SOME CHEFS!

Uses for Tonka Bean Trees (Dipteryx odorata)

Tonka bean trees, AKA Dipteryx odorata, are nitrogen-fixing leguminous trees with beautiful, very hard wood.
The wood is particularly well adapted for use in tool handles, agricultural implements, sporting goods, and other uses utilizing its high bending strength and good shock resistance qualities. The somewhat oily nature of the wood and its hardness allow its use for bearings, cogs, shafts, and other uses in place of lignum vitae, where friction wear is a problem. It makes excellent wood for railway crossties and posts, for it is durable and does not split when exposed to the elements. This wood should also do exceptionally well as boat keels and frames, ice sheathing, industrial flooring, and specialty items requiring a strong durable wood. Small quantities have been shipped into the United States for high-grade face veneer.
Check this picture out:
That’s a shot from IBI International, a Swedish building materials corporation.
They relate that the wood is “resistant to fungi, insects and marine borers. Railroad crossties lasted from 10 to 22 years when used in well dried soils.”
Even if it weren’t for the delicious beans, this tree would be a great addition to a tropical food forest. Lumber, nitrogen-fixation and a spice. Excellent!
I hope my beans sprout.

Why You Should Put Clay in Compost Piles


Steve Solomon recommends you add clay to compost piles, especially if you have sandy soils.

Putting Clay in Compost

Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back… but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in the video I posted yesterday:

An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results with clay in compost piles:

The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned.  The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and re-watered too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.

Clay is made up of very fine particles so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.

The resultant compost is packed with nutrients which are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long lasting, water retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon, not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”

Putting Clay in Compost is Good For Sandy Soils

In sandy soils organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay is capable of hanging on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.

If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via buying bentonite. Just sprinkle it in as you layer materials – you don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.

According to Infogalactic:

“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.[14][15]

Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”

Lots to think about. Make that compost stick around!


If you like this post – please pin it! Look, I made a nice graphic.


An Inspiring 23-year-old Food Forest


Why have a lawn when you can have this?

This is what I shoot for in my own food forest projects. My North Florida food forest was a great success by its fifth year and will only grow more beautiful and productive over time.

Though I believe annual gardens will always have their place in a food production system due to their very short time until production and their high yields, making a food forest part of your homestead makes a lot of sense. As a gardener grows older and bending and hoeing become more difficult, having productive trees and shrubs reaching their potential will provide abundant organic food for his table without the labor that goes into a traditional backyard garden.

Plus, the beauty of a forest is good for the soul – and the food and herbs they produce are something to smile about.


Though I am currently renting, my goal is to purchase a piece of property and create a new, fully tropical food forest down here near the equator. When my money comes in from Nigeria, I ought to be totally set to get whatever I like. I might even buy an entire island.

For now, I’m re-learning my plants and the rate of weed and tree growth down here is nothing short of astounding.

Right now I’m greatly missing my old food forest. Every day there was something new to see or taste out there. I am particularly interested in seeing how my experimental grafts are doing right now, though I am glad to be missing pollen season.

Some of my restlessness should be cured when I get a piece of land of my own to work with; however, I am renting a gorgeous place right now and just started putting in new beds, so I really don’t have anything to complain about.

And speaking of happiness, if you have land, why not dedicate a piece to creating a food forest?

Doesn’t this look a lot more inviting than a lawn?


I love the woods. Woods that produce food and medicine are even better. And the wildlife is wonderful… I had so many bees, frogs, beetles, butterflies and birds on my old food forest that it was a source of constant wonder. It took a few years to get the ecosystem going, but as the number of species increased, my pest problems went way down.

I’m always encouraged by seeing other people have the same success. Go ye out and make some forest!


P.S. If you live in Florida, my little booklet will inspire you.


How to Eat Noni Fruit

eat noni fruit

I have been learning how to eat noni fruit over the past month or so and I think I have it down.

And yes, I am mean.

People love picking fights on the internet and I admit, I rather like fighting. Coyote Peterson ate noni fruit and called it “the puke fruit,” which is just ridiculous. I had to call him out on it.

My YouTube channel is nearing 16,000 subscribers now and I’m getting a lot more traffic which means I pick up more negative comments, especially when I pick on beloved celebrities. This just means more fun for everyone!

That aside, though – I have discovered how to eat noni without it being overpowering.

Eat Noni Fruit The Easy Way

First, there are good reasons to eat noni fruit. It is reported to be good for a wide variety of ailments, plus it’s a pain-reliever.

eat noni fruit

That doesn’t look scary AT ALL, does it?

You want to put that in your mouth, don’t you? Yes, you do.

The first time I took a bite of a noni fruit, it was very hard to place the flavor. I wanted to to spit it out just because it’s so weird. The flavor is a combination of black pepper and strong cheese, but with a mushy consistency. It’s not like anything else you’ve ever tried.

Yet on subsequent tastings, I was able to eat more of it.

I tried putting noni in a smoothie but found the flavor did not meld well with the bananas and other items I added. It doesn’t taste good mixed with sweet things, as you might expect from something with black pepper overtones.

So I thought, “hey, why not just enhance the flavor of this fruit a bit and see if it can me made more palatable on its own?” I read somewhere online that some people eat noni with salt, so I decided to try it.

That was much better. It’s still peppery and will numb your mouth a little bit as you eat, but the flavor is greatly improved with salt.

Continuing down the path of savory, I decided to salt and eat noni with slices of sharp white cheddar cheese.

…and that led to my video. It’s really quite decent that way. It’s not necessarily something you would seek out for the flavor, but once you eat noni a few times you do start to crave it somehow.

I have been deliberately eating a lot more fruits and vegetables to increase my energy and my body’s healing capacity and noni is one of those “superfoods” I will continue to incorporate. I’ll even eat them straight and without salt now when I find them at the seashore. You get used to it. One day I may even love the flavor, but the jury is still out on that.


A Short Garden Tour


Today, in celebration of hitting 15,000 subscribers, I posted an entertaining tour through the little vegetable gardens out back:

The beds and fencing, etc., aren’t the way I would design a garden but the pre-made space works pretty well and has been a blessing. We’re getting some good pumpkins now, as well as greens and perennial cucumbers.

Here, as a comparison, is a garden I designed:

I don’t like raised beds all that much and was mostly phasing them out in my Florida gardens; however, they are more useful here where the soil is filled with rocks and clay.

In the future I hope to dig and sort all the rocks out of the beds which will help even more.

It is nice to get some Seminole pumpkins from the garden but I am quite disappointed they all seem to be the necked variety. That was unexpected – not what I thought I had saved.

Have a great weekend. I’ll be getting some gardening done today.


Free Nitrogen-Fixer Seeds


I’m not picky when it comes to sources of soil fertility.

Sure, I could go the classic route and plant soybeans or peanuts, like farmers do, or I could go the grocery store and buy dry beans, peas and lentils, or…

…I could just go wander through the woods or even along the shoreline and pick up seeds from obvious nitrogen-fixing species.

Many, though not all, members of the bean and pea family, more properly known as Fabaceae, enjoy a special relationship with certain soil microbes which allows them to take nitrogen from the atmosphere – which is inaccessible to plants – and “fix” it into a form which plants can use.


The roots of the plant share sugars and water with the bacteria, and in return, the bacteria give the plant nitrogen. It’s a fantastic design and one the gardener can put to work in his garden.

Once you learn to spot members of the bean and pea family, it because easy to find them.

If you don’t feel like you’re very good at plant ID, the book Botany in a Day has a lot of photos which will get you spotting plant families in no time.

Botany in a day

Though you’re not really going to learn botany in a single day – unless you’re some kind of a savant – Elpel does a nice job visually putting together plants into families and getting you going. You might not nail down a species right away, but you will be able to tell pretty certainly that the plant is in the hibiscus family or the soapberry family or, as concerns today’s post, the bean and pea family.

Nitrogen-fixing trees and plants are everywhere. In the case of the bay beans and Crotalaria I picked up at the beach, I know both of them fix nitrogen – and even if I didn’t know for sure, I could make a very good guess since they look like beans and are also nice and green in an area where they don’t have much right to look so chipper!

I’ll be planting these in rough areas and then later cutting them for use as compost while leaving the root systems in the ground. If you leave the roots instead of pulling them, you get more biomass in the soil and as the roots decay they’ll feed the next thing you plant.

Crotalaria isn’t edible (so far as I know) and the edibility of bay bean is disputable.

This woman, however, cooked and ate some – plus she made a nice privacy screen by planting a bamboo trellis with bay beans – but eat at your own risk. I’ll wait until I have more data.

Edibility is a nice plus with nitrogen-fixers but isn’t necessary. I’m mostly interested in feeding the ground for now.

If you’d like to see some of the many nitrogen-fixers I added to my old food forest in North Florida, check out this post.

Have a great Saturday – get out there and garden!

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